La Quinta High School's student-run newspaper

Going Rustic and Finding Myself in Fiji

September 28, 2017

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Going Rustic and Finding Myself in Fiji

Thao Nguyen

I welcomed the summer of 2017 by leaving the United States for the first time ever as I traveled 5,630 miles away from home.

On June 20, I got on a plane with over 60 complete strangers as we prepared to fly to Fiji. We were all from different countries and states; initially, the only thing we had in common was that we were on a Rustic Pathways program. We were all traveling to different regions of Oceania to participate in various service projects and experience adrenaline activities.

All of us were joined together under the decision that we wanted to immerse ourselves into a different culture, learn about the people, and also lend a hand in the Fijian community.

Upon landing in Nadi, the third largest city in Fiji, we were all divided into our separate groups and drove into the rural mainland of Viti Levu, just minutes away from the Momi Bay Village.

This was our first encounter with “going rustic.” We essentially lived like a village and this lifestyle helped us bond with not just each other, but with the Fijian people as well.

My biggest struggle with this travel program was that I was drastically stepping outside of my comfort zone. However, the warmth that I received by the locals and the sudden friendships I gained opened my heart to the experience.

There were three Fijian phrases that stuck to me during my two weeks abroad: “Bula! Vinaka vaka levu. Moce!” These three phrases each had a deeper meaning to the locals that resonated within me.

“Bula” meant more than hello, it was a warm and loving welcome. While “vinaka vaka levu” was more than just a thank you. The locals used this as a way to express deep gratitude.

“Moce” wasn’t a goodbye, it meant see you soon.  These three phrases go hand in hand with my favorite memories, such as being welcomed in each village with hundreds of smiles, being thanked for teaching at schools, and for construction work done in the villages, and as the locals sang to us “Moce,” while waving their hands as we left.

My time in Fiji was filled with adventure and love. I was able to see Fiji in the eyes of the people, not as a tourist. I’ll never forget my memories of sunset and sunrise walks up the hill, dancing and singing to native songs, and all the people I met on this journey.

So much beauty lies in Fiji, it’s not just the blue waters or the green hills. It’s the people and their warm hearts. I fell in love with this country over and over again every single day.

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